Alabama football takes some heat from games against FCS teams, leading to bogus claims the Tide does not play a strong schedule. Facts show otherwise.
No matter how often college football pundits and rival fanbases are wrong, the bashing of Alabama football never truly abates. From opposing fans it is often driven by jealousy. Much of the negative punditry is driven by nothing more than pandering to the hordes of Crimson Tide haters.
The debate over how tough is a team’s competition relative to other teams should be settled by Strength of Schedule (SOS) algorithms. But it isn’t. Being a fan means having free rein to discard any information counter to belief.
Last fall when Alabama football was ranked No. 1 and Clemson No. 2, the old refrain was used again to challenge the Tide. How could the defending national champion be ranked below the Tide “who have not played anybody.” One cause for last season’s debate was the rapid decline of FSU after Deondre Francois was hurt against Alabama.
With a limping FSU as its showcase out-of-conference game combined with opponents, Colorado State, Fresno State and Mercer, the Tide’s schedule was attacked. Fresno State ended up winning 10 games but the Rams were a poor 7-6 and Mercer’s weakness needs no further elaboration. The point is, the 2017 Alabama football schedule was vulnerable to attack.
Rather than Algorithms, a more clear comparison
There is a simple way to compare the top teams in terms of strength or weakness of schedule. Just use the College Football Playoff participants. Other than what must be the minority of UCF fans not driven by CFB insanity, most of college football accepts the CFB Playoff teams as the nation’s best each season.
Let’s look at the eight teams that along with Alabama football have played in the four seasons of the CFB Playoff. We will compare each team’s schedule each of the four years, based on how many games were played against ranked opponents. The best source for these records is Sports Reference – CFB.
In 2014, Oregon played six ranked teams. FSU and national champion, Ohio State played four. Alabama football played seven ranked teams.
In 2015, Oklahoma played six ranked teams. Clemson and Michigan State played five. Alabama football played nine ranked teams.
In 2016, Clemson, Washington and Ohio State each played five ranked teams. Alabama football played 10 ranked teams.
In 2017, the four teams were close to being equal in terms of ranked opponents. Alabama football, Clemson and Georgia played six ranked teams. Oklahoma played five.
The four year average of ranked competition for Alabama football is eight ranked opponents each season. The four-year average of the other CFB Playoff teams is 5.66 ranked opponents.
We are not so naive to believe these facts will end the debate over Alabama football schedules. We know in the 2018 season, there will be another chorus of “who have they played.” Alabama fans, the next time you hear that claim, shout back, “who has x team played.”
For the sake of discussion, the early Sports Illustrated ‘Way Too Early’ 2018 Top 25 has the Tide playing three ranked teams. An SEC Championship game would take the total to four and two CFB Playoff games would total six again, the same as 2017.